Freeway Sheds Cars, but Not Heavy Traffic
|June 16, 2003 - ArroyoFest was a three-hour lark for all participants.|
|Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writer|
|Los Angeles Times|
|Walkers and bicyclists experience the Arroyo Seco from the auto-less Pasadena Freeway in a three-hour lark approved by the state.|
Thousands of people rousted themselves from bed early Sunday for a rare opportunity: touching the pavement of a Southern California freeway closed to auto traffic.
The event was ArroyoFest, which was billed by organizers as a chance to bike or walk along about a six-mile section of the Pasadena Freeway. The purpose was to give people a chance to take in the sights and sounds of the Arroyo Seco from its main thoroughfare.
At 7 a.m., a wave of about 3,000 bikers hit the southbound lanes of the road, with many riders holding up their cameras as they pedaled. Following the cyclists was an even larger throng of walkers, a few of whom plopped down on the oily pavement to pose for photos.
"Echo," screamed Paul Murphy, 63, standing under the bridge that carries Via Marisol over the freeway. His voice answered four times, leaving him extremely impressed.
"I had a real urge to take the exit to the 5," said Steve Edberg, 50, of La Cañada, as he sat on his bike. "If I had 200 or 300 riders with me, I think we could have taken over that one too."
The event had been in the planning stages in one form or another for 10 years. That is the amount of time it took organizers to persuade Caltrans that the sheer novelty of navigating a freeway outside a car would be a big draw — and not cause massive regional gridlock.
"I knew there was all this pent-up demand for something like this," said Dennis Crowley, a longtime Pasadena bike path advocate who said he dreamed up the idea. "It's such a beautiful location and you can't see it all from a car."
The Pasadena Freeway might not be hallowed ground, but it is certainly familiar terrain to the thousands who drive it every day. The road was completed in 1940 and is known as the West's first freeway. It was recently named a National Scenic Byway by the federal government.
As frequent commuters know, the narrow freeway can be an instrument of torture when it is jammed. It can also be a hair-rising ride, with its many tight turns and on- and off-ramps that seem shorter than a bowling alley.
Event organizers included a number of neighborhood groups from the area. At a festival in Sycamore Grove Park after the freeway ride and walk, several speakers urged those in attendance to imagine a different sort of Arroyo.
For example, the groups would like to see at least a few parts of the Arroyo Seco — the stream that plunges from the San Gabriel Mountains — taken out of its concrete channel and restored to a more natural condition. Also on their wish list is more affordable housing in the area and a renovation of the freeway to make it safer and prettier.
One of the organizers was Robert Gottlieb, the director of Occidental College's Urban and Environmental Policy Institute. "The most gratifying thing is people saying how unbelievable it is that this could even happen," he said.
It was certainly a rare event. During the bike ride, the freeway was very quiet except for the click of gears and a few conversations on cell phones of the "guess where I am" variety. Traffic moved at a steady clip.
By 10 a.m., however, it was all over. The California Highway Patrol, playing the role of party-pooper, began ushering people off the road. A few minutes later the familiar drone of engines could be heard, and the old freeway wheezed back to its usual form.